Are you addicted?
The music theatre piece 'Ghanashyam: A Broken Branch' was premiered by Birmingham Touring Opera in 1989 but addresses a dilemma that remains disturbingly relevant three decades later. Ravi Shankar once said - "Get high on the music, it is enough" and he composed A Broken Branch to express his deep concern over youth culture’s preoccupation with drugs. A reformed drug pusher recently admitted "I don't know if I really understood the consequences...God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains". The pusher went on to explain that "We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while...it's a vulnerability in human psychology".
In 1989 Ravi Shankar's concern was with drugs as traditionally defined - substances giving a physiological effect. However the quotes above are from a pusher of a different drug, but one that delivers the same addictive dopamine hit. The quotes come from Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook. Medical science confirms that an addictive dopamine release is triggered by social media. With more than 2.2 billion Facebook users craving the dopamine high that comes when, to quote Sean Parker again, "someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever", and with those users spending on average 58 minutes each day on Facebook plus at least as much time again on other social media networks, that is a very large emerging addiction problem.
As with Ravi Shankar's Sitar Concertos and Symphony which were also composed for Western audiences, 'Ghanashyam: A Broken Branch' uses both Western and Eastern instruments. Although the sitar is central to the Concertos and Symphony, these large scale orchestral works are written in the Western classical idiom, and in my judgement are, as a result, among the less successful of Pandit Shankar's compositions. By contrast the smaller scale and far more engaging 'A Broken Branch' is firmly rooted in the Indian classical tradition. Ravi Shankar started his career dancing in his brother Uday Shankar’s troupe, and 'A Broken Branch' incorporates dance music in the North Indian Kathak and South Indian Bharatanatyam and Kathakali styles, with the signature sound of the sarangi, sitar and tabla judiciously leavened by violin, guitar and synthesizers. As the theatre piece unfolds, the central character Ghanashyam, an acclaimed Kathak dance teacher, becomes addicted to the highly potent strain of cannabis called ganja; his career is ruined and eventually he dies, as does his wife and fellow teacher Lalita.
Quite why this little gem is not better known is a mystery. 'Ghanashyam: A Broken Branch' was originally released on CD in the early 1990s in a version edited down to 60 minutes due to the then prevailing constraints of CD capacity. East Meets West Music, which is the official record label of the Ravi Shankar Foundation, has re-mastered the original tapes and restored twenty minutes of music for a notable and sadly overlooked CD re-release. Personally I have kicked the Facebook dopamine habit. But please feel free, if you want, to share news of this deserving release on social media. But if you don't want to share it there, that's no problem; just get high on the music, it is enough.
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